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Column 093013 Brewer

Monday, September 30, 2013

Strengthening and Reforming Latin America's Policing Mandates

By Jerry Brewer

The vacillation, hand-wringing and knee-jerk reactions to establishing strategic and proactive law enforcement services to much embattled Latin American homelands are disturbing, as well as demoralizing.

Indecisive and perplexed political leaders, as well as many opinionated experts, cannot seem to separate the wheat from the chaff as to the dilemma of traditional policing services versus military applications intervention as a viable substitute, or simply a conduit of support.

Reality does show that Mexico's military engagement against a heavily armed transnational organized criminal insurgency under former President Felipe Calderon, and to a lesser degree current President Enrique Peña Nieto, may have saved a nearly failed state.

During the six-year Calderon administration (2006-2012), organized crime related homicides of 174 public officials and politicians were reported.

Current government officials say that in the first six months of this year 244 police officers, from the three levels of government and members of the armed forces, have been killed by organized crime.

Many from across Latin America are criticizing "the lack of results produced by the militarization of law enforcement," calling instead for police forces to be stronger and regenerated.  The irony behind this criticism is that effective and competent police institutions essentially have not existed in Mexico, and the northern cone of Central America, since at least 2005 -- if ever.

Government corruption due to massive drug trafficking and many other competing vast crime revenues, set an early stage for institutional failure at government and police levels. Flawed judicial systems have contributed to transnational organized criminals acquiring substantive power.

The Mexican military had to overcome the power and weaponry of Los Zetas and other transnational criminals, who confronted them head-on and in brazen ambushes, plus there have been acts of kidnapping and murder against soldiers. Traditional policing efforts were never a line of defense against such superior firepower and tactics, and may never be.

Mexico's military drove many of the criminal combatants across the border into Guatemala and on into Honduras, where corruption and weak policing structures have also failed as enforcement lines in the sand. In February 2009 Los Zetas threatened to kill then President of Guatemala Alvaro Colom. As well, according to the United States government, Los Zetas control 75% of Guatemala.

As many Mexican and other leaders throughout Latin America discuss traditional police methods versus militarization enforcement efforts, it needs to be clear that many of those nations are a far cry from being a soft touch, and other community policing initiatives have been successfully deployed over the past years throughout the Americas. Albeit, even in the US transnational crime infiltration is forcing many jurisdictions to engage much more tactically and strategically due to the threats. 

In Latin America stopping the violence, taking control, and enforcing the rule of law will be a monumental task. Is it a mandate for police, the military, or a combination of both?

Strengthening national justice systems is key.

Although Mexico has professed a new direction in policing the homeland with more emphasis on "traditional crime and violence," officials are mindful of existing and escalated threats and have telegraphed a well found fear of possible disruption of plans.

The truth is that policing and law enforcement are about crime and violence, the protection of life and property, and service to the public. They are not about defending the homeland against transnational organized criminal insurgents that outgun even the military in many instances, and corrupt by fear and murder and with huge amounts of money.

The talk of a "failed drug war," war on drugs, legalization, and other passive concessions on the rule of law that exists, fails the test of a scholarly autopsy of the roots of "crime and violence," and methods needed to interdict, engage, and enforce. It is not about putting "drugs" in jail or finding out who its friends are; it is about defending the nations' security.

Crime for the most part is about money. Tracking the source and origins and interdicting crime requires increased expertise in financial investigations that trigger so much of the violence. The focus must be on all criminal acts that include incredible increases in kidnappings, extortions, and human trafficking.  The fight must be labeled a war against violent crime. Obviously, no government will legalize violent crime, and policing a homeland must prevail and build exponentially to meet the threats inherent.

Sidebar, Mexico saw the highest number of reported kidnappings in the first half of 2013 since at least 1997.

Common sense approaches require reflecting on the ever increasing diversification of criminal activities throughout the hemisphere. Special attention must be given to organized crime and its transnational implications.

Managing change and mitigating threats are so much more than increasing manpower.  They are about strategic thinking and planning, use of sound intelligence systems, focused training and professional development, building and nurturing effective teams; as well as the proactive and strategic methods of deploying these resources -- military and police.


Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at

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